This blog is about my meanderings through China on one of my little adventures. Follow me using this rather crudely edited map and see what really goes on in this vast and interesting country. I try to present it as honestly and ironically as possible, and comedy is often implicit, though not always sought after.
Of course, this has all already happened, but since China has a no tolerance blockade on the internet, I can only tell you about it after my return. So without further ado, here’s day 1.
Day 1: London – Guangzhou
“Oh, just a second.” I say hurriedly as someone walks in on me whilst peeing in the aeroplane toilet. God, I should really learn how to say sorry in Mandarin, and how to lock a door. Not quite what you were expecting for the beginning of a travel story? Well, you’ve obviously not met me. My life is the kind of farcical adventure that features on TV sketch shows that people make up, but you can’t make this shit up.
“Fuck.” I said when I realized I didn’t know the pin code to the card that has all my money on, whilst trying to change £3000 worth of GBP into shiny pink Chinese bank notes this morning, at a Thompson booth in Surrey Quays…but no fear, there’s always a backup plan.
Online banking, switch money between accounts, buy 24,700CYN (special staff rate of course), stash it in my backpack and head to the airport. I heard a saying once, can’t remember where it was from but it goes:
“If you haven’t used your plan B then you haven’t tried hard enough.”
There’s another saying in Chinese that reads: “Shou zhu dai tu.” Which literally means: “To guard a tree stump” but actually means: “To stand by a stump waiting for hares to come and dash themselves against it.”
It’s an ironical poke at leaving things to chance that I found quite insightful, whilst translating random garbage on my phone, trying to rapidly learn Chinese.
So I learnt a bit of Mandarin, have enough cash to buy a Chinese bank, have a Rough Guide to China, and am now downloading the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon soundtrack. Totally psyched. I like it when things go to plan, but I also like a challenge. Example: sent off to get my Chinese visa a month in advance. Receive the following phone call from a charming older Chinese man struggling with English:
“Ah, Hello, Mr Ocean?”
“O’Shea, but yes, who’s calling?”
“It’s Chan from a the Chinese visa centre in Edinburgh. We receive a your application, but there’s a no passport.”
So my passport was lost in the post. No problem, book appointment for 1 week rush service, get new passport the day before I go to Spain, book new visa appointment for the day I get back. Visa application denied. Fuck. Who do I know in China…?
“James, I need to ask a huge favour. Can you get your girlfriend to write me an invitation letter?”
James doesn’t really know me. We went to school in the same area when we were kids and had some of the same friends, ironically all Chinese, but apart from that, I haven’t spoken to him in ten years. He just so happened to like my post about going to China on Facebook and I found out that he actually lives there.
“If you promise to bring me some Sainsbury’s Strawberry Laces to Wuhan.” He says.
Invitation letter received, new appointment booked, visa accepted. Fuck yeah! Collect visa and passport the day before travel, quick Sainsbury’s trip. Now to get my travel money…
I also have a detailed map of china, which I have drawn lines and circles all across; a map of the Chinese rail network; a list of trains, journey times and costs of all the major journeys on my list (which I will forthwith ignore); a list of all the places I want to go, with a rough schedule, taking into account that I need to pop into Kasakhstan to renew my visa by day 90; and of course, an MP3 player full of classic rock and Chinese meditation music.
I’m about to spend the next four months in China. What could possibly go wrong?
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